________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 10 . . . . January 11, 2008



Monica Rho (Director & Animator). Michael Fukushima (Producer). David Verrall (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2005.
5 min., 20 sec., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: C9105 027.

Subject Headings:
Social isolation.
Women-Social conditions.
Interpersonal relations.

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.

Review by Julie Chychota.

**** /4

A woman’s quest for paper clips forms the premise of the playful and punchy short entitled Stationery. Having received an e-mail specifying that reports be “Paper clipped (NO STAPLES!),” the protagonist resolves to comply; still, despite her careful planning, unforeseen circumstances nearly keep her from her objective. While the topic itself is mundane, the treatment of it is brilliant. The film’s music and dialogue neatly accompany the minimalist animation, resulting in incisive observations on urban life, corporate culture, and office politics. 

     The animation truly is as “lively” and “witty” as the DVD’s synopsis claims. The background retains its flatness in spite of its use of perspective to create the illusion of three-dimensional space, yet the characterization is anything but two-dimensional. Voice artists sound out the characters’ depths, rendering them believably “human.” Our anonymous protagonist, for instance, convincingly exudes self-assuredness, smugness, indignation, and resignation by turns. Anonymity here functions not to introduce distance, but to circumvent it; it removes the notion of a distinct other, and, together with the character’s interior monologues, brings viewers imaginatively into her frame of reference, her point of view. These interior monologues establish that not only is the protagonist a perfectionist driven to excel, but she also allows professional concerns to seep into her personal life. The decision to cast the incomparable Sandra Oh to voice the main character was a stroke of genius.

     Alongside the spoken word, clean, sharp lines capture and reflect a surprising range of expressions, attitudes, and mannerisms. For instance, the protagonist clearly gloats over her box of paper clips: she carefully opens the lid, her eyes moving furtively from side to side as she savors her purchase--a secret, guilty indulgence. Other clever little touches that make the character seem more human include the pervasive post-it notes on her nightstand, in her briefcase, and stuck to her computer, as well as the way that she doodles while on the phone, tracing and retracing the shape of a paper clip. 

     Furthermore, the gestures given to a co-worker, John, ensconce him as the antagonist, a Type B foil to the protagonist’s Type A personality. Not only has John stapled his report, but also he spontaneously throws his arm around the protagonist, and later he greets his supervisor with a gesture that signifies an informal or egalitarian relationship between the two. Attention to such details wordlessly communicates the various aspects of office politics.

     Wit is also evident in the transitions from scene to scene. A streetscape transforms into the interior of an office building, for example, and an elevator lobby into a cubicle. In both scenes, the former background recedes and drops away as the latter emerges, thereby eliding time and rapidly advancing the storyline. In addition, as the report’s deadline looms, director/animator Monica Rho conveys an increasing sense of urgency through split screens which zoom in on the keyboarding protagonist: in each successive split, the magnification increases. This technique proves highly effective in heightening tensions.

     The device of rhythm, both visual and aural, defines and accentuates domains of the public and the private in Stationery. For example, background music proceeds at a leisurely pace while the central figure is at home whereas, during her commute and throughout her workday, rapid, staccato notes underscore prosaic, commercial transactions. Meanwhile, the repetition of color echoes the divisions induced by sound. Rho selects a warm palette of yellows and oranges for the woman’s private living quarters which contrast with the cooler blues and grays of the office. One recurring motif involves pink and red, colors frequently symbolic of femininity, to which the protagonist seems especially partial. Shades of these two colors turn up in an umbrella, a notebook, a scarf, the paper clip box, and elsewhere in the film; they appear to facilitate movement between public and personal spheres in some mystical fashion.

     Clocking in at only five minutes and twenty seconds, Stationery will leave its audiences wishing for overtime—-or perhaps a sequel to answer the outstanding questions. That is, why does the protagonist feel she must buy paper clips when the company’s Stationery Department is sure to have some? Why does the staff in the Stationery Department demonstrate such an obvious lack of customer service? Are the Stationery staff really going for lunch at 11:00 a.m., and why that early? Why did Fred insist that reports be paper-clipped? Why did John ignore instructions and will there have been any repercussions? In any event, Rho successfully delivers a smart commentary on the intricacies of office culture, hinting at darker undertones, yet keeping it light on the surface.

     Especially resonant for anyone who has ever felt chained to a desk or confined by a cubicle.

Highly Recommended.

Julie Chychota claims a rich and varied employment history in both corporate and academic environments. She currently works as a computerized interpreter in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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